'American Idol' touts farewell season, but judges cast doubts on ending

PASADENA, Calif. -- Fox is calling this the farewell season of "American Idol," but the stars involved with the singing contest sound unconvinced.

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"I think the Eagles had at least three farewell tours," judge Keith Urban told a TV critics' meeting Friday.

Given the show's record of success and heritage, "does that mean this is the end?" long-time host Ryan Seacrest said. "I'm not so sure."

Fellow judge Jennifer Lopez said a return is possible, adding later, "I'll always be there when they call."

Executive producer Trish Kinane declined to address why Fox decided to end "Idol" after 15 seasons. But the expensive-to-produce show's ratings have steadily eroded in recent years, with the 30 million-plus viewers it attracted at its 2006 peak a distant memory -- hence Fox's announcement last May that this season would be its swan song.

"American Idol," which averaged about 11 million viewers last season, has rebounded somewhat by holding steady at close to that. Viewers appear inclined to take a last look at the show that produced stars including Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson.

Fox didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the remarks by Seacrest and the judges. Whatever the show's future, the network is making the most of the season by bringing in former winners and contestants including Ruben Studdard, David Cook and Jordin Sparks, and with pop stars promised for the typically grand finale.

Clarkson, the show's inaugural winner, isn't letting her pregnancy keep her from taking part, Kinane said: She will be a guest judge on Feb. 25 and may participate further if possible.

Simon Cowell, the acid-tongued Brit who was part of the original judges' panel that included Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, is a busy man but is expected to appear on the finale this spring, Kinane said.

Kinane was asked about criticism of them voiced by season two runner-up Clay Aiken. In a tweet posted Jan. 6, Aiken wrote that Cowell was the reason for the show's success and said, "I've watched root canals more entertaining than these judges."

The original panel was "fantastic" but so is this year's, Kinane said of Lopez, Urban and Harry Connick Jr., in their third year together as judges.

"This season's about celebration. That's all I really want to say about Clay Aiken," she added.

In a pre-taped segment that aired on "American Idol" after his barb on Twitter, Aiken joined other former contestants to counsel hopefuls at an open audition.



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